On July 21, 1861, a hot and dry summer Sunday, Union and Confederate troops clashed outside Manassas, Virginia, in the first major engagement of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run. Union General McDowell hoped to march his men across a small stream called Bull Run in the vicinity of Manassas, Va. that was well-guarded by a force of Confederates under General Beauregard. McDowell needed to find a way across the stream and through the Southern line that stretched for over six miles along the banks of Bull Run. McDowell launched a small diversionary attack at the Stone Bridge while marching the bulk of his force north around the Confederates’ left flank. The march was slow, but McDowell’s army crossed the stream easily because the weather leading up the the battle had been dry and the stream was running at a low level. Some of Beauregard’s troops, recognizing that the attack at Stone Bridge was just a diversion, fell back just in time to meet McDowell’s oncoming force. The battle raged for several hours on top of Henry Hill, with each side taking control of the hill more than once. Slowly, more and more Southern men poured onto the field to support the Confederate defense, and Beauregard’s men pushed the Northerners back. At this point in the battle, Confederate General Barnard Bee attempted to rally his weary men by pointing to Brigadier General Thomas Jackson who stood his ground in the face of the Union assault. Bee cried, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” From that moment on, Thomas Jackson was known as “Stonewall” Jackson. As the day wore on, the strength of McDowell’s troops was sapped by the continuous arrival of fresh Southern reinforcements and the intense heat of the summer day with temperatures in the 90s and Union troops in heavy wool uniforms. Eventually, the Northerners began to retreat across Bull Run. The Union pullout began as an orderly movement. However, when the bridge over Cub Run was destroyed, cutting off the major route of retreat, it degenerated into a rout. The narrow roads and fords, clogged by the many carts, wagons, and buggies full of people who had driven out from Washington, D.C., to see the spectacle, hampered the withdrawal of the Union Army. The heat had done in the Union troops who had marched a greater distance to get to the battle and then choked in the dry, dusty roads as they made their way back to Washington City.
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